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Serena Williams loses in doubles, US advances in Fed Cup

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) The first step in Serena Williams’ comeback underscored how far she has to go after spending over a year away from the game.

In Williams’ first competition since giving birth five months ago, she and sister Venus lost 6-2, 6-3 to Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands in a Fed Cup doubles match Sunday.

“I honestly feel better than I thought I was going to feel,” she said.

The U.S. already had clinched a victory in the best-of-five event thanks to a pair of singles victories by Venus Williams, so this doubles loss merely narrowed the final score to 3-1. The U.S. advanced to a World Group semifinal April 21-22 at France, which defeated Belgium 3-2 this weekend.

The clincher came Sunday when Venus Williams won the final five games in a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Richel Hogenkamp. The U.S. had taken a 2-0 lead Saturday when Venus Williams beat Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-4 and CoCo Vandeweghe rallied from a set and a break down to defeat Hogenkamp 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.

“Obviously this is an important moment, when you’re playing not just for yourself but your other team members and your captain and your country,” Venus Williams said. “It’s definitely a different kind of pressure.”

But this event was most notable for the return of Serena Williams, who hadn’t played competitive tennis since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant for her 23rd career Grand Slam singles title, one off Margaret Court’s record. Her only match since had come in a Dec. 30 exhibition.

Serena Williams’ daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., was wearing a headband with red and white stripes plus a blue coat Sunday as her father, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, held her just behind the players’ bench.

“I didn’t manage my time well, but I was thinking about it in the future how to manage it better,” Serena Williams said. “This is literally my first time traveling with the baby and everything. I’m going to try to do better. It was hard. It was the first time for me.”

Williams had said Friday that this weekend would represent “the start of a long process” as she tries to work her way back. Her pregnancy had complications that made this comeback particularly challenging.

Williams had told Vogue magazine that she developed several small blood clots in her lungs after her daughter was born Sept. 1. The article said that she was unable to get out of bed for the first six weeks after giving birth.

Her doubles match revealed the effects of her long time away from the game. Williams said she hadn’t known what to expect Sunday and acknowledged she needs to improve in all aspects, but she added that “I feel like I’m on the right track.”

“I didn’t expect to have that much power on my serves, even though they didn’t go in,” she said. “It’s just a start. I feel like that’s a very good step in the right direction.”

Netherlands captain Paul Haarhuis said a few more matches should help Williams correct the mistakes she made Sunday.

“I think she’s going to be fine,” Haarhuis said. “She’s got the game, you know.”

Williams’ biggest challenge may be managing expectations as she attempts to work her way back into peak form while balancing tennis and motherhood.

Her goals remain as high as ever.

“I think if I walk out there with low expectations, then I need to stop doing what I do,” she said. “So that’s never going to happen for me. I’m always going to have the best and highest expectations for myself. I’m OK with that because that’s just who I am.”

Sunday’s scheduled singles match between Vandeweghe and Rus was scrapped because the outcome of this event already has been decided.

After Venus Williams’ singles victory Sunday, U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said the Williams sisters would be playing doubles together. The schedule originally called for Serena Williams to play alongside Lauren Davis.

In other Fed Cup action this weekend, the Czech Republic beat Switzerland 3-1 and Germany beat Belarus 3-2. Germany will host the Czech Republic in the other semifinal.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

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Tennis star Bouchard testifies about slip, fall at US Open

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NEW YORK (AP) Tennis star Eugenie Bouchard has taken the witness stand at a New York City trial to accuse the United States Tennis Association of negligence that led to her slipping on a locker room floor and hurting her head.

Bouchard testified Wednesday a wet floor caused her to slip and fall inside a locker room at the 2015 U.S. Open.

Her lawsuit contends the USTA should have done more to warn her the area had just been cleaned. The defense says she shouldn’t have entered without being accompanied by tournament personnel.

The lawsuit says the fall left Bouchard with a concussion and “serious head injury.”

Bouchard says she was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Open and tournaments in China and Japan. She’s seeking unspecified damages.

The 23-year-old Canadian player is ranked 116th in the world.

Serena Williams champions issues on, off court

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Moments after Serena Williams won her seventh Wimbledon title, she proudly raised her fist in a black power salute.

It caused a bit of frenzy at the All-England Club in 2016, but Williams’ action shouldn’t have surprised anyone: She’d already been one of the most vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was one of the first major athletes to decry the failure to indict a white officer in the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – while also condemning violence against police.

“What caused me to speak out? Just life,” Williams said. “That’s just who I am. I always believe in the greater good and doing what’s right.”

Williams isn’t alone in her activism. Female athletes – especially black women – have long been out there pushing for social change. Wilma Rudolph’s victory parade celebrating her three gold medals from the 1960 Olympics in Rome was the first integrated event in Clarksville, Tennessee.

But despite their efforts on the field and off, women athletes have to struggle to get the same attention as men despite having as much to say, said Harry Edwards, a scholar of race and sports who has worked as a consultant for several U.S. pro teams.

“We have this twisted, almost-demented obsession with women’s second-class status with their physical inferiority,” he said. “It prevents us from appreciating the great athletes that they are … but it also means that it shuts down a potential forum that these great athletes would have where they’re valued for their athletic prowess in the same way that Muhammad Ali was, that Bill Russell was, that Tommy Smith and John Carlos were, that Arthur Ashe was, that Curt Flood was, so that when they speak, people listen.”

While Williams has long been an advocate of Black Lives Matter, it was only after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the 2016 season that the country really began to pay attention to black athlete activism. Kaepernick added his voice to a growing national movement, enveloping the entire league and starting an ongoing conversation that ventured outside football arenas.

Similarly, few people acknowledge that after the 2016 deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the killing of Dallas police officers, dozens of WNBA players wore shirts with the men’s names and kneeled for the national anthem.

It was a black woman, Knox College basketball player Ariyana Smith, who started the wave of athletic protest about the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

On Nov. 29, 2014, Smith made the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture during the national anthem before a game at Fontbonne University in Clayton, Missouri, before walking toward the American flag and laying prone on the floor for 4 1/2 minutes to symbolize the 4 + hours Brown lay in the streets of nearby Ferguson.

“We as black women are often invisible, so we don’t get that credit,” said Akilah Francique, a former athlete who cofounded the Sista to Sista program to foster a sense of connectedness among black female collegiate athletes.

Williams has been a presence on and off the tennis court, not shying away from opponents en route to winning 23 Grand Slam titles or social and political issues.

She spoke up in 2015, encouraging Black Lives Matter activists not to get discouraged: “To those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter, I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you. We’ve been through so much for so many centuries, and we shall overcome this too,” she wrote in Wired magazine.

Since then, Williams has become the symbol for other causes affecting people of color, including medical issues. In February, she told Vogue that she dealt with a medical scare after the birth of her daughter. She had to insist on getting extra medical tests, overruling her nurse, before her doctors discovered several small blood clots in her lungs.

Women around the country related to her story, talking about similar difficulties in getting proper medical attention.

Female-led activism can also look different than men’s, Francique said, because of the unique positions and pressures women face in sports and in life. She pointed to the criticism black women athletes have to overcome about their body shapes, training regimens, skin color, clothing and even hair when they compete in sports – criticism that Williams has endured.

“For many of them just by merely being there and having a presence is activism,” Francique said.

Williams’ older sister, Venus, who has advocated for equal pay for professional tennis while winning seven Grand Slam titles, believes it is important to have a voice on these issues.

“I think more than anything, we see ourselves as Americans, and that’s what we want to be able to see ourselves as, regardless of color,” said Venus Williams. “I think that’s what everyone is fighting for, that one day we don’t have to see that anymore.”